Orbital View: A Mushroom Cloud From Mother Nature

Orbital View: A Mushroom Cloud From Mother Nature – The Atlantic

Notes

First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress

The Instagram account for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center surfaces a striking view of a volcanic eruption from June 12, 2009:

It’s the Sarychev volcano in Russia’s Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan, and the incredible view was captured during a “fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station.” More from NASA:

Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain and is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island. Prior to June 12, the last explosive eruption had occurred in 1989 with eruptions in 1986, 1976, 1954 and 1946 also producing lava flows. Commercial airline flights were diverted from the region to minimize the danger of engine failures from ash intake.

This detailed photograph is exciting to volcanologists because it captures several phenomena that occur during the earliest stages of an explosive volcanic eruption.

The main column is one of a series of plumes that rose above Matua Island (48.1 degrees north latitude and 153.2 degrees east longitude) on June 12. The plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance; the surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption. The smooth white cloud on top may be water condensation that resulted from rapid rising and cooling of the air mass above the ash column, and is probably a transient feature (the eruption plume is starting to punch through).

The structure also indicates that little to no shearing winds were present at the time to disrupt the plume. By contrast, a cloud of denser, gray ash—most probably a pyroclastic flow—appears to be hugging the ground, descending from the volcano summit. The rising eruption plume casts a shadow to the northwest of the island (bottom center). Brown ash at a lower altitude of the atmosphere spreads out above the ground at upper right. Low-level stratus clouds approach Matua Island from the east, wrapping around the lower slopes of the volcano. Only about 1.5 kilometers of the coastline of Matua Island (upper center) can be seen beneath the clouds and ash.

In other words: Damn.

An even more jaw-dropping view:

(See all Orbital Views here)

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